How the deal was struck / Under cover of a Knesset session (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Jonathan Lis and Ophir Bar-Zohar 05/09/12)
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition head Shaul Mofaz
surprised the Israeli public and the political establishment early
Tuesday morning by announcing that Mofaz´ Kadima party had joined the
coalition in a national unity government.
The move came as the Knesset was preparing to disperse for an early
election, set for September 4.
Under the new coalition agreement, its members undertook to pass a
universal service law by the end of July, to amend the system of
government by the end of this year, to renew the peace process, to
increase personal security and to guarantee a more equitable division
of national resources. The agreement does not go into the specifics
of each issue, with the exception of the two dates cited, such as
budget allocations or guidelines for changing the Haredi draft or the
system of government.
Mofaz will be appointed vice prime minister, acting as premier when
Netanyahu is abroad. He will join the security cabinet and attend all
limited ministerial forums that include the prime minister and deal
with military, economic, social and foreign-policy issues. Kadima
also agreed to supporting the government´s policies until the next
scheduled election, in November 2013.
Kadima will assume the chairmanships of the Knesset Economics
Committee, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a
third committee to be named later. Former Shin Bet security service
chief Avi Dichter, a Mofaz confidant, is considered likely to be
named to head the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
The formal announcement was made at a joint press conference Tuesday
afternoon. "I realized it was possible to restore stability to the
government without a new election," Netanyahu said about his decision
to form a broad unity government.
"I was told I wanted an election in order to escape the budget, the
Tal Law [governing Haredi conscription] and the toughest questions
facing Israel," he said, adding, "And now we are here saying we are
joining hands. We have a historic opportunity."
Speaking after Netanyahu, Mofaz said, "We decided to take a major
historic step. There is neither extortion nor mere gestures here. I
did not demand any post ... Kadima will carry out steps we did not
manage to do in the past."
Regarding his previous characterization of Netanyahu as a liar, Mofaz
said: "We have put that behind us, we are looking to the future."
The agreement was preceded by a late-night drama in the Knesset.
Shortly before 1 A.M. Tuesday a Knesset security guard noticed two
men leaving the compound. "Mofaz is about to join Netanyahu´s
government," the guard whispered to someone, setting off the Knesset
rumor mill. The sleepy Knesset cafeteria began to buzz. Bleary-eyed
MKs and cabinet ministers, who had readied for an all-night session
over the Knesset´s dissolution, began hunting for scraps of
information about the rumored agreement with Kadima.
Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud ) called across the cafeteria to
MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima ), saying, "Thanks for getting us another year
and a half in power."
Hasson, one of a handful of Knesset members who had just been briefed
on the development, smiled.
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor ), who is running for chairmanship of the
Histadrut labor federation, approached a table of Kadima MKs. "You´d
even clean tables in the Prime Minister´s Bureau," Cabel said
A short time before, Mofaz had been sitting in the Knesset plenum.
His face gave no indication of the roiling drama. Most of his party´s
MKs were also unaware of the deal that was being hammered out. When
the rumors began circulating, Education Minister Gideon Sa´ar and
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, both of whom are from
Likud and were out of the loop, stood in the middle of the cafeteria,
furiously calling on their cellphones in an attempt to find out
exactly what Mofaz had been given. Was the eviction of Beit El´s
Ulpana neighborhood imminent? A change to the system of government?
"The move clearly gives Netanyahu and [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak a
safety net to launch a strike on Iran," said one opposition MK after
hearing about the unity government that was in the works.
MK Yariv Levin (Likud ), who was trying to bring a session of the
Knesset House Committee on the vote to disperse the Knesset to a
close, stood, visibly shocked. "What a night. I can´t remember a
drama like this happening before," he said to his fellow MKs. Levin
received a succession of notes from party leaders, urging him to keep
the meeting going to provide cover for the Netanyahu-Mofaz parley.
Coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin stood not far from the committee
room, tying the final loose ends of the agreement in phone calls to
Netanyahu and Mofaz, both of whom confide in him.
Finally, the signal: Likud, Kadima and Labor MKs were summoned to the
caucus room at 2 A.M. Netanyahu, smiling arrogantly, passed by the
large knot of journalists waiting to ambush him without giving a
response. "Why don´t you all go to sleep?" he said before slipping
into the conference room. He was quickly followed by his former chief
of staff, Natan Eshel, who was recently forced out after being
accused of harassing a female employee in the Prime Minister´s
Office. Eshel, one of the godfathers of the agreement, refused to
speak with reporters.
MK Miri Regev (Likud ), who followed closely after them, cried
out: "Unbelievable, we´re rebuilding Kadima."
A little while later, after the agreement was announced, Sa´ar left
the room and ran into MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (United Torah
Judaism ). "Rabbi Moses, you can continue to work with me
indefinitely," Sa´ar told him before embracing him warmly.
"Maybe we won´t get a peace agreement with the Palestinians out of
this, but Netanyahu will bring a change to the system of government
and pass the new Tal Law, these are very important accomplishments,"
another cabinet member said. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 05/09/12)
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